Rep. Wheeler's Weekly Roundup: July 22

Budget – FY17
·         Budget experts warn of continued Illinois deficits.  Although Illinois’ lawmakers enacted a stopgap budget in late June to cover the first six months of FY17, budget analysts warn that this move was not equivalent to a constitutional balanced budget for the entire year.  In fact, the act of “spreadsheeting out” the money being spent, and comparing it to honest projections of the money coming in, reveals that Illinois’ expected spending will outweigh expected FY17 revenues by $7.8 billion.  The Reuters news service believes this is the largest single deficit by a state in U.S. history.  Expected spending totals $39.5 billion and expected revenues total $31.8 billion. 

Although the state Constitution contains a legal requirement that the State annually enact a balanced budget, the requirement has been widely ignored in recent years.  Continued ten-figure State deficits have led to a growing backlog of unpaid Illinois bills.  The Comptroller’s office now counts the State’s unpaid bills at almost $8.0 billion.  The unpaid bill total is contained in Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger’s “The Ledger”, a subpage of the Comptroller’s webpage. 

Drivers’ licenses – REAL ID Act compliance
·         Secretary of State’s office uses new process for drivers’ license renewals.  One key change, mandated by the federal government, is an end to the traditional practice of presenting each driver with a new drivers’ license on-site when the renewal procedure is completed.  The federal REAL ID law requires all new 50-state drivers’ licenses to be manufactured in guarded, secured facilities.  In Illinois, starting in summer 2016, drivers who successfully renew their licenses at a Secretary of State Driver Services facility will get their old licenses back with a hole punched through them, accompanied by an additional 45-day paper slip of successful renewal.  The punched hole will signify that the old license is on course to lose its validity, but will remain temporarily valid throughout the 45-day period.  The driver should carry both the old license and the paper slip, which when carried together will be a valid drivers’ license for up to 45 days. 

Meanwhile, the information gathered in the Secretary of State Driver Services facility will be transmitted to a central location where a new, secure drivers’ license will be printed and stamped.  The new license will contain various features intended to increase the security of the license and further reduce potential counterfeiting.  The new license should be mailed to the driver within 15 days, and once received should be carried and used.  The old license with a hole in it will no longer be valid. 

The Secretary of State’s office is also on course to impose additional security requirements upon first-time applicants for a standard drivers’ license, starting on July 1, 2017.  First-time applicants will be required to present a U.S. passport, a certified copy of their birth certificate, or immigration documents that demonstrate proof of legal residence in the U.S.  These are all requirements that are being imposed on all U.S. states by the federal Department of Homeland Security pursuant to implementation of the post-9/11 REAL ID Act.             

Drugs – Bath salts – Rep. Avery Bourne
·         GOP lawmaker is chief House sponsor of new lawP.A. 99-585 was signed into law on Monday, July 18.  Aimed at the illicit sale of “bath salts,” the measure creates the Bath Salts Prohibition Act.  “Bath salts” are the commonly-used colloquial name for cathinones, a usually-synthetic family of drugs with properties similar to cocaine.  Abuse of cathinones is a growing threat throughout Illinois, including in Downstate counties.  Police officers and health care first-responders, such as paramedics and emergency room physicians, have logged increasing numbers of cathinone diagnoses and consumption in recent years. 

The new Act creates the Class 3 felony offense of selling bath salts in a retail establishment.  The possession of cathinones was already forbidden under the Controlled Substances Act, but reports from law enforcement that the substances were being distributed from some retail shops led to the introduction and passage of the new law, SB 210, sponsored in the House by Rep. Avery Bourne. The Bath Salts Prohibition Act was drafted to create an enhanced fine of up to $150,000 for the illegal sale of bath salts.  A retailers’ license may also be revoked for violation of the law.  The Senate approved the bill 53-0-0, followed by unanimous approval in the House of Representatives by a vote of 114-0-0. 

Education – PARCC high school tests
·         Complex testing protocols helped end use of PARCC exam in Illinois high schools.  The PARCC test was meant to generate high-quality variables to gauge the success of Illinois public high schools in preparing students for college.  However, the processes used to prepare students for the test, and then administer the test, were seen by many participants as both complex and fragile.  The high school PARCC exam was part of the controversial “Common Core” requirements adhered to by many states as part of overall efforts to improve U.S. educational performance.  The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced earlier in July 2016 that it would cease to supervise the use of the PARCC exam in Illinois public high schools, effective during the 2016-17 school year and thereafter.  Students in Illinois 11th-grades will take a standardized SAT test in its place.

The “Chicago Tribune” has learned that the ISBE faced potential sanctions from the U.S. Department of Education in the wake of allegations that protocols may have been violated in the administration of the test.  The alleged violations include apparent decisions in some high schools to leave out certain student subgroups from the high school PARCC testing cycle, including students enrolled in special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) groups.  Subtracting members of subgroups such as these from the tested population could be seen as artificially lifting test numbers.

Had these alleged strategies been carried out successfully, a wide variety of Illinois public high schools could have generated unnaturally high PARCC test numbers.  However, PARCC results from tests administered in the 2014-16 two-year period, as reported by ISBE to individual Illinois public school districts, showed that a wide variety of districts throughout the State had failed to meet PARCC expectations for high school student college readiness.  Over the two-year period that it was in widespread administration, the controversial exam antagonized many students, educators, parents, and communities by generating numbers seen as negative.  In an ironic twist, the same test now appears to have allegedly been administered in some districts in a manner that should have generated false positives.  The improper protocols used to prepare for and administer the high school PARCC exams could have led not only to false positive numbers but also to federal school aid sanctions against ISBE and the public school districts that depend on federal aid funneled through ISBE.  

A separate PARCC test, which has not generated potential federal sanctions, will continue to be administered to public school students in grades 3 through 8.     

Energy – solar power
·         Illinois solar energy installations rose 75% in 2015.  The rate of annual increase indicated increasing acceptance of solar panels in Illinois.  The now-familiar installations are typically installed on roofs or other raised platforms.  A solar panel will generate electricity whenever photons are striking the panel, including on cloudy days.  “Net metering” technology enables a building equipped with solar panels to feed electricity into an electrical grid on sunny days and to draw power down during periods of time when the sun is dim or absent.

Covering activity in Central Illinois, a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star talked with a solar energy consultant and client.  The businesses had collaborated to plan and install a $62,500 solar panel array on a rooftop in downtown Peoria.  Aided by state and federal tax credits, the project was expected to generate a positive return in less than five years.  

One challenge facing adopters of “renewable energy” infrastructure is that on a typical 24-hour cycle, the periods when renewable energy are not being produced tend to be commonly shared by everybody across the geographic area.  At certain periods of time, none of these pieces of renewable-power infrastructure will be feeding net-metered power into an electrical grid.  Periods of solar night, or wind calm, make the solar panels go dark and cause the wind turbines to stop spinning.  Operators of traditional utility infrastructure often point out that in order to meet their franchise mandates to provide reliable power on a 24/7 basis, they typically must maintain almost all of the fossil-fuel energy infrastructure that they would have maintained had solar and wind power not existed.

General Assembly – redistricting maps
·         Cook County judge takes first step to strike down “Independent Map” amendment.  The proposed constitutional amendment was spearheaded to give voters an opportunity to vote on whether to reform the way Illinois legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years. The amendment, if presented to the voters and adopted, would erase the political procedure currently used to draw these maps and create a new nonpartisan process in its place. The new process is intended to produce a map that is not “slanted” in favor of one political party or the other. 

Opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment filed a lawsuit in Cook County circuit court, demanding that voters not be permitted to vote on the measure and that it be barred from appearing on the November 2016 ballot.  Their lawsuit won a victory in Cook County circuit court on Wednesday, July 20.  In her decision in the case of Hooker vs. Illinois State Board of Elections, Judge Diane Joan Larsen cited several constitutional concerns as fatal flaws in the amendment and ordered that it be struck from the ballot.  The decision is likely to be appealed.

Gov. Bruce Rauner – executive order 16-09
·         New executive order reorganizes Calumet Basin brownfields redevelopment. EO 16-09 contains language to reconvene a Task Force to oversee, coordinate and make recommendations for successful Calumet Basin redevelopment.  The project, called Millennium Reserve, is meant to generate ways and means of creating local jobs through public-private partnerships on the far south side of Chicago and adjacent suburbs.

The Millennium Reserve jurisdiction is characterized by large areas of declining or abandoned factory development, joined together by the railroad lines and rights-of-way that once carried supplies and products in and out.  Prior to industrial development there were also many wetlands in this “Calumet” region of greater Chicago, some of which survive.  Initial plans for the Millennium Reserve include the creation of jobs by re-purposing many of the regions’ rights-of-way as recreational and bike trails.  Longer-term goals for the same region include the redevelopment of some of the brownfield land parcels as new jobsites and as public parklands.  The creation and maintenance of a 21st-century lifestyle infrastructure in this region will require a great deal of cooperation between a wide variety of communities, units of local governments, and local job creators and businesses. The Millennium Reserve’s Internet mission statement dedicates itself to partnership goals.    

Governor Bruce Rauner’s Executive Order clarifies the legal status of the Millennium Reserve State Agency Task Force, which is meant to be the initial State participant in this partnership. To be chaired by the Director of the Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) or his or her designee, the Task Force will work with its partners to broaden and deepen pathways to public-private cooperation.  The Task Force has been asked to transmit an initial report to the Governor on 6/30/17 and a final report on 6/30/18.  It is set up to be a temporary body and further partnership activities between the State and its allies to further develop the Millennium Reserve after 2018 will take place in ways yet to be determined.            

Human Rights – Molly’s Law – Rep. Terri Bryant
·         Gov. Rauner signs “Molly’s Law” in Murphysboro.  The two bills that made up the “Molly’s Law” package were sponsored by Rep. Terri Bryant.  Both bills were based on a tragic case from her district in southern Illinois.  HB 4715 increases fines to a maximum of $10,000 for public bodies that fail to comply with Freedom of Information Act court orders to release public records.  HB 6083 ups the statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits from two years to five.  

The “Molly’s Law” bill package was inspired by Molly Young of Southern Illinois.  The “Justice for Molly” movement began when Larry Young fought for the memory of his late daughter Molly, who had died in 2012 with a fatal gun-inflicted head wound in her boyfriend’s apartment.  Under State law, the first recourse against the perpetrator in cases of this type is a criminal case with the perpetrator as a defendant, and the second recourse is a civil case for wrongful death.  Unfortunately, in the case of Molly Young her survivors had a two-year period to bring a wrongful-death case against the alleged perpetrator.  During all or almost all of the length of time after Molly’s death, however, local law enforcement stated they were investigating the case and could not release any information about it.  When it was announced that the criminal case had been dropped, it was too late to commence a civil action.  The Young family was left without any recourse at all.  The Freedom of Information Act amendment and statute of limitations extension on civil lawsuits are meant to prevent a similar chain of events from occurring in the future in Illinois.      

Rep. Terri Bryant worked with Larry Young and other constituents to draft and introduce these bills in the Illinois General Assembly.  HB 4715 (Bryant/Radogno) was approved nearly unanimously by both houses (House: 113-1-0; Senate: 56-0-0).  HB 6083 (Bryant/Radogno) was approved unanimously (House: 118-0-0; Senate: 54-0-0).     

Human Rights – Snapchat
·         Snapchat accused of violating Illinois human rights law.  The popular image-sharing service now includes an application, Looksery, that includes aspects of facial recognition technology.  Facial recognition software relies upon the digital college and storage of information about the biometric variables of the faces being recognized.   Illinois law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act, forbids operators of computers from using other peoples’ biometric information without their express consent.  An Illinois plaintiff has now sued Snapchat for alleged violation of the law.  Snapchat denies all charges and has labeled the case a “frivolous lawsuit.”  The suit is currently pending in federal court.

The Snapchat case comes amid growing hopes and concerns about the potential for cloud-based storage and retrieval of biometric information.  In a period of time when news coverage of actual and alleged acts of terror appears to be growing exponentially, we can expect to see requests that authorities consider universal databases of biometric information. Biometric databases could be conjoined, by 24/7 technology, with constant monitoring of specific geographic sites; places that are either secure or are thought to deserve to be secure.  The appearance of a “bad person,” or a person thought to be a bad person, at a site could be wired in such a way as to set off a security alarm bell.  At the same time, advocates warn increasingly of threats to privacy created by facial and other biometric information gathering and storage by key players in the public and private sectors.      

Jobs – “Illinois Made” campaign
·         Illinois’ marketing to travelers concentrates on small businesses.  The new “Illinois Made” campaign encourages visitors to come to Illinois to enjoy our homegrown and craft products.  The $65 million appropriation, being distributed through the Illinois Office of Tourism, is funded through taxes on hotel and motel room rentals.  Selections of featured local businesses are coordinated by local tourism bureaus.

The first round of “Illinois Made” featured products and tourism experiences features Funks Grove maple syrup, tapped and boiled down from a historic grove of sugar maple trees south of Bloomington-Normal.  The confectionary product, which the Funk family has called “sirup” since 1824, is sold from a roadside store near the I-55 exit of Shirley, Illinois.

Springfield – Governor’s mansion
·         Plans to rebuild Illinois Executive Mansion; project would cost $15 million; private-sector fundraising drive has begun.  The Lincoln-era stately home, located near the State Capitol in central Springfield, has been the home of Illinois governors since 1856.  The mansion last saw major renovation work in 1971 and no longer conforms to current legal and building-code requirements for security, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, energy conservation, and many other checkoff areas.  There have been serious incidents of pipe bursts and roof leaks in recent years.

Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner this week unveiled a $15 million plan that would encompass a major rebuild of the mansion and its grounds.  The renovation and rebuilding, if implemented, would improve access to a section of the mansion to the public.  The public section of the mansion would include a visitor orientation center and a gallery space for the celebration of Illinois works of art.  At the same time, a private wing of the mansion would be renovated to provide actual living space for governors of Illinois and their families.   

The Diana Rauner plan is expected to be entirely funded by the private sector.   The Illinois Executive Mansion Association, a 501(c)(3) entity, is currently engaged in the active raising of funds to commence the first phase of the project.  Approximately $4.5 million has been raised so far.

Summer in Illinois – unclaimed property
·         Live auction of unclaimed property at Illinois State Fair.  The Treasurer’s office announced plans for a live auction of unclaimed property at the 2016 Illinois State Fair.  Proceeds from the auction will be placed in trust for the owners, should they ever turn up.  Unclaimed properties escheated to the State include contents from safe deposit boxes and storage lockers. If no rent is paid on these safe places, the custodian is required to turn the contents over to the State Treasurer.  The State Treasurer by law is custodian of unclaimed property in Illinois.  In the August 20 State Fair auction, 21,500 unclaimed items will be sold in 255 lots.  Classic sports memorabilia to be sold include a pair of new 1997 Air Jordan shoes and a rookie baseball card featuring Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks.           

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